At Bethany, we're fortunate to have a wide range of instruments available to accompany and enhance our worship. Over the next few weeks, I'll take you on a mini-tour of our music facilities. Today, we start out with a unique keyboard, our harpsichord.
The harpsichord was invented sometime in the 1400s and essentially peaked in popularity during the 18th century. It has appeared in a wide range of variations, but they all share the one common feature of plucking the strings. This is in contrast piano, which uses a hammer to hit the strings, and accounts for the more "metallic" or "crisp" sound of the harpsichord. This feature also prevents the harpsichord from producing as much volume as the piano, which was certainly a factor in its decline.
Today, perhaps the primary reason to play the harpsichord is for the music of J.S. Bach. At the late service on Christmas Eve, the congregation got to hear his harpsichord for two concertos, and Lent will feature a number of Bach's preludes and fugues. When performed on this period instrument, the music of Bach possesses clarity and character that cannot be precisely reproduced on the piano. One biased account from the link above states that by the year 1800, "The precision and clarity of the baroque had been replaced by mush and bombast." To put it another way, the Romantic era ushered in a very different sound, full of emotion, in comparison to the intellectual purity of Bach's time. Hearing music on the harpsichord gives us a new musical perspective and that variety can help keep worship interesting and stimulating.